Plant-based fake meats are so hot right now, and every day it seems like a new company is trying to get in on the action. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods still stand out as the two companies making faux beef that tastes the most like the real thing. So when Trader Joe’s recently announced that it would be joining the fray, we decided to see how the taste of TJ’s Protein Patties compare to the established players.

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The ground rules for our plant-based fake meat face-off were pretty simple. Because both Trader Joe’s and Beyond Meat’s fake meat are conveniently packaged in pre-formed patties, we grilled up some burgers following the cooking instructions on the packaging, then added an assortment of toppings. In keeping in the spirit of the challenge, every ingredient we used was vegan, including the bun and the plant-based fake cheese. (Chao makes the best fake cheese for things like grilled cheeses and burgers, in case you were wondering.)

Meet the contestants.
Meet the contestants.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

The Impossible Burger comes in a big brick of ground fake beef, so we tried to maintain a level playing field by shaping it into two 4-ounce patties. That brings us to one of the biggest differences between the three products.

At $4.50 for two 4-ounce patties, Trader Joe’s Protein Patties are the cheapest plant-based option. That said, a package of two 4-ounce Beyond Burger patties only costs slightly more at $4.99. Impossible Burger is the most expensive option at $8.99 for a 12-ounce package (which comes out to around $6 for eight ounces). But because Impossible Burger doesn’t come pre-formed, it’s better suited for use as a replacement in meaty dishes like tacos or lasagnas than the Trader Joe’s faux meat. (Beyond Meat is also available in non-patty form.)

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The next big difference is how each of the plant-based proteins are made. Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat both add ingredients like coconut oil and cocoa butter to mimic the fat you’d get in real ground beef. But Impossible goes a step further with heme, a soy-based protein that contains iron, which not only gives Impossible Burger its signature meaty flavor, it also simulates the appearance of blood. That gives it a more authentically beefy appearance.

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Trader Joe’s chose a more traditional plant-based protein solution by using pea protein and a heavy dose of beets, which give its patties a noticeably pinker color and a slightly different flavor than Beyond and Impossible.

Even after cooking, the heavy use of beets in Trader Joe’s patties gives them a pinkish hue.
Even after cooking, the heavy use of beets in Trader Joe’s patties gives them a pinkish hue.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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So how do they taste? Watch the video above for our full reactions, but in short, Impossible Burger is still the best-tasting and most convincing beef substitute. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive, but the difference in taste is quite noticeable. Not only does Impossible Burger look the part, but it also forms a crust while searing, which enhances its flavor and texture.

But from there, it’s a matter of personal taste. When it comes to meat substitutes, I prefer Beyond Meat over Trader Joe’s, though I do admit Beyond Meat has a unique funk to it that you don’t get from TJ’s or Impossible Burger. Part of that funk is what makes Beyond Meat taste more like actual beef, though some may not appreciate its aftertaste.

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They all look pretty similar, but if you look close, the stronger pink hue of the TJ’s patties gives away which is which.
They all look pretty similar, but if you look close, the stronger pink hue of the TJ’s patties gives away which is which.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Victoria preferred Trader Joe’s Protein Patties due to its cleaner, nuttier favor, which could actually be a plus for long-time vegans and vegetarians who might not be ready to dabble in legit-tasting meat substitutes. But when it comes to faking the taste and texture of real meat, to me, Trader Joe’s doesn’t quite cut it. A TJ’s patty tastes like what a Boca Burger wishes it could be: a great plant-based burger. But it ain’t meat.

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Which one should you buy for your next Meatless Monday? That really depends on what you want to make and how much money you want to spend. Impossible Burger is more expensive, but it tastes the most like real beef, and because it doesn’t come pre-formed into patties, it’s a more versatile choice if you want something more environmentally friendly than beef. (Serious Eats founder and NYT contributor J. Kenji Lopez Alt agrees.)

Beyond Burger is only slightly more expensive than the TJ’s patties, but there’s that slight funk to contend with. Beyond Burger is also available in both lump (brick?) and patty forms, which is helpful for quickly replacing traditional ground beef in pretty much any dish.

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Trader Joe’s Protein Patties might not taste the most like real meat, but they’re damn tasty.
Trader Joe’s Protein Patties might not taste the most like real meat, but they’re damn tasty.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Then there’s Trader Joe’s, which is the least expensive of the three. Their plant-based patties don’t quite satisfy a carnal meat craving, but they are a lighter meat replacement that won’t cause the you to get drowsy. But in the end, what you buy will also depend greatly on where you shop. For all the Trader Joe’s warriors out there, there’s a great new plant-based meat substitute for you.

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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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